South African Steven van Heerden took many lessons out of the Commonwealth Games track events held in Gold Coast over the weekend – including just how far this country is behind the leading racing nations.
Van Heerden participated in three track events: the team pursuit, individual pursuit and points race.
South Africa finished fifth in the team pursuit qualifier, with Van Heerden setting a new national record in the individual pursuit, placing 19th with a time of 4:32.92. He then finished 18th in the 40km points race finals.
“It [the Commonwealth Games] was a big learning curve and experience,” Van Heerden told In the Bunch. “Nothing specifically went wrong on race days; everything worked out as planned.
“I just think the only thing to do in order to get better and faster is to do more racing at this level.
“It is a different feeling and experience riding at 55km/h, while just trying to hang on at the back.
“So to improve it will be important to get more racing done at higher levels and then I am sure we [South Africa] will get there.”
The events, Van Heerden said, were “hard” in different ways. “The team pursuit was very fast – we had to train quite hard for that – while the individual pursuit was difficult, it being just myself against the clock.
“It was quite challenging to get through those four kilometres as fast as possible. The points race was a very hard bunch race. I have never done such a difficult race in my life.
Van Heerden said it was his first time racing on a wooden track, which posed a challenge.
“I did not know what to expect as to how the racing would play out. I had to familiarise myself by watching the other guys and watching more of the racing on television.
“It was quite daunting rocking up at the Games having not ridden on a wooden surface before,” he added.
Overall, he was happy with his performances, Van Heerden said. “I got a bit of flu after the travelling en route to the Games, but luckily we were able to sort that out.
“When I started the events I felt good. I broke some personal records, as well as the SA record [individual pursuit].
“It was a good performance overall, but it was just scary to see how off the mark we [South Africa] still are from the front guys.”